Saturday, October 22, 2011

Growing Crops Without Soil -- Using Aerogel Films to Grow Plants

This development from Japan is said to reduce the water requirements for vegetable gardening by 80%! The thin aerogel films are said to be reusable for up to 3 years per film. Consider this only the beginning for this new approach -- halfway between hydroponics and aeroponics.

This type of farming should be useful for future space and lunar colonies, as well as for farms in deserts, polar regions, and underground.
Tokyo-based Mebiol is working on an membrane–based plant cultivation technology called Imec that makes it possible to let plants grow on thin film instead of soil. The film is made of a water-absorbent material called hydrogel and is just “tens of microns” thick.

Mebiol says that tomatoes, radish, cucumber, melons etc. need up to 80% less water to grow when compared with conventional culture and that 1g of SkyGel (that’s the brand name of the hydrogel) absorbs and holds 100ml of water. In contrast to soil, bacteria or viruses have no chance to harm the plants. Another advantage is that SkyGel can be used on various surfaces, including sand, concrete or ice (see this PDF for examples from recent years).

The film can be used to grow plants for 2-3 years before it needs to be replaced, according to the company. _TechCrunch_via_ImpactLab
Expect more indoor farming of all types, once this new growth medium becomes more widely available. If you are thinking that marijuana farmers will be looking at this, you are probably right. And as new genetically engineered flowers and vegetables come along that borrow genes from the coca plant and the opium poppy, expect many more domestic sources for such drugs -- or virtually any drug -- in the not so distant future.


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